There’s no doubt about it: we are in stressful times. It is an unprecedented situation, affecting everyone in some way.

When the world is going to hell in a handbasket, we figure, what does it matter if I eat my 5 plus a day or cut down on sugar? It’s a very natural, human reaction to say, bugger it: I’m having a glass of wine, a pie and a block of chocolate.

You know what: that’s okay. Food is often a comfort and if you feel you need comfort right now, especially if you’re on your own in isolation, or working in a stressful situation, go for it. I’m not going to tell you to deny yourself, if your favourite treat food is what makes you feel human.

I liked what the New York Times’ Sam Sifton wrote recently, speaking of cooking when in lockdown:

“Deliciousness is possible against the backdrop of a national emergency, and … it matters to discover that’s the case, for deliciousness improves moods, and inspires hope. Deliciousness sends a message. Someone cares.”

He’s right. If our food tastes good, it nourishes more than just our bodies. It’s good for our souls and it’s good for our brains. And having mental resilience, as much as anything, in stressful times, can help our overall health.

Luckily, it’s not too tricky to eat healthy food that’s also delicious. And although I’m also not going to say eating well can fend off any virus, we do know that eating a healthy diet has an effect on how we feel, physically and mentally. And eating well can help us have a healthy immune system, should we need to fight any viral invaders.

As we know, there is no medication or supplement that can help us avoid any virus. Be sceptical of anyone trying to sell you any other message, and use your hard-earned (and possibly increasingly scarce) money to buy fresh, whole, locally grown, locally made food.

If you’re in the mood to cook, whether or not you’re in quarantine, think of it as an opportunity not only to do something calming and creative – which cooking definitely can be – but also to nourish. Here are some things to think about when creating your meals:

Go for colour

Try to get as many colourful ingredients as possible into your meals. That means plants: colourful vegetables and fruit; nuts and seeds; whole grains. Colourful meals are visually appealing as well as tasty; an extra bonus if anyone in the household is unwell.

Get gut-friendly

The gut is a big part of our immune system. Gut-friendly foods include high-fibre whole grains, vegetables and fruit, seeds, nuts, and fermented foods like yoghurt and fermented
veges. Looking for something to do in self-isolation? Why not try making your own sauerkraut or kimchi?

Don’t forget the freezer

Frozen foods can be just as healthy as fresh ones, so stock up on frozen veges and fruit. If you’re cooking, make an extra serving or two and pop it in the freezer for a quick meal down the line.

Eat what makes you happy

Listen to your body and feed yourself what makes you happy. If you really do this, it probably won’t mean an all-junk-food diet. But whatever you eat, be kind to yourself and truly savour and enjoy it. This is not a time for feeling guilt or shame about what we’re eating.

Fact check:

A gluten-free diet is healthier

It can be easy to get the impression – based on the fact that gluten-free food is often included in the health-food category in supermarkets and other shops – that gluten-free food is better for us than regular food.

For some people, this is true. If you have Coeliac Disease, or non-Coeliac gluten sensitivity, gluten-free food is absolutely going to be a much healthier – and necessary – way for you to eat, because it’s the only way to avoid gut damage and all kinds of unpleasant health effects.

In terms of general health, though, a food being gluten-free is not a guarantee of health benefit. In fact there’s plenty of gluten-free junk food out there, and it’s perfectly possible to eat an unhealthy gluten-free diet, just as it’s possible to eat an unhealthy gluten-containing diet. So when choosing gluten-free food, apply the same criteria as you do to all foods: go for fresh, whole, minimally-processed foods, gluten or not.

* Niki Bezzant is a food and nutrition writer and speaker. Follow her on Facebook or Instagram @nikibezzant

NZ Herald

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